Why the blame for last night’s shenanigans mostly lies on Calgary

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Every so often, a game gets sufficiently out of hand that I don’t even want to talk about it in our postgame article and I save the thoughts for the morning, just to let everything settle. Most recently, we had that happen for Leafs vs. Canucks Part 1, where both sides had a long string of guilty parties.

This wasn’t really the case tonight. The Leafs kinda set the match off, but the Flames were in the driver’s seat for everything that happened afterward.

Act I: Leo Komarov hits Johnny Gaudreau

The game was already over halfway done at this point, both in time elapsed and in goals scored. Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri had already scored to put the Leafs up 2-0, so the Flames were likely feeling a little deflated at the twelve-minute mark of the second period. But then Leo Komarov throws this hit on Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau, and struggles to get up.

It’s something you don’t like to see in any situations; head injuries are very serious, no matter what the situation. This situation felt a bit closer to unfortunate, though. Komarov doesn’t jump, he doesn’t lift up his arm to sneak some elbow in, and he even tries to slow down a little before impact. Unfortunately, Gaudreau is a small player, he’s still crouched, and he’s looking the other way, so his face takes the brunt of the impact. Being Calgary’s superstar, Mark Giordano answered the call. Kind of…

Eventually, Gaudreau did return to the game and Komarov made sure to check in with him to apologize and make sure that he was okay. Though at that point, the rest of the Flames were already in an “us vs. them” mindset, as you can see.

Act II: Kris Versteeg goes after Auston Matthews

About three minutes after the Komarov hit, former Leafs winger (for about fifteen minutes) Kris Versteeg decides that he’s going to do a bit of star hunting of his own. He tries to throw a slightly late hit on Matthews behind the Calgary net (no clip; TSN and Sportsnet feeds moved the camera away until they separated from impact). Unhappy with the fact that Matthews was unphased by the hit, Versteeg goes for a baseball swing.

Thankfully for Matthews, the man who is eleven years older than him was hilariously unsuccessful.

Act III: Alex Chiasson goes after Leo Komarov

Now that it was evident that the Flames weren’t going to easily be able to “even the score” by going after a star player, Alex Chiasson devoted the early moments of the third period to trying to make Komarov pay. After Komarov fakes out Gaudreau and curls to the same board where they had their collision, he goes for a hit. 

Unlike Komarov, Chiasson goes east-west to try to catch him off guard. He jumps into his hit, and he leads with his elbow. It’s an objectively dirtier hit, but because he didn’t get enough of his weight into it and all Leo did was adjust his helmet and skate away, all he received was a roughing minor.

Act IV: Sam Bennett slew foots Connor Carrick

With a minute and a half left in the game and a 4-0 score that was going to be next to impossible to conquer, the Flames still weren’t satisfied with their efforts to make the Leafs pay. Hits weren’t working, slashes weren’t working, attempts to actually win the hockey game really weren’t working. So out came the legs.

By technical definition, Bennett’s play here doesn’t classify as a slew foot, because he doesn’t grab onto Carrick and because his leg doesn’t curl and hook into Carrick, it’s technically just a trip. But the intent was very obviously there. The referees didn’t see what Bennett did and the end result of this was a Calgary powerplay; both Bennett and Carrick received roughing minors and Carrick took two for the vengeance cross-check.

Act V: Matthew Tkachuk slew foots Martin Martin Marincin

So, we’ve seen slashes, questionable hits, and slew foots. There are 80 seconds left on the clock. That’s game, right? Nope!

With four seconds left in the game, Matthew Tkachuk pulls down Martin Marincin in front of the net with.. another, even more egregious slew foot. This one even appeared to injure Marincin at first, given how long he took to get up, but Mike Babcock confirmed that he’d be fine. This one went largely unnoticed by fans, because the Leafs broadcast didn’t bring much attention to it, but Calgary’s feed shows just how blatant of a dirty play this is.

So for review: Tkachuk tries to slew foot him once and fails, so he gives it another go. In the second motion, he also gives him a shove, butt end, whatever you want to call it to the chest. It’s an incredibly unsportsmanlike play for no apparent reason.

The Aftermath

The league added a roughing minor to Tkachuk’s play to make it reviewable, but it looks like nothing will come out of it. That’s the one I’m most disappointed about.

When you look at everything else, it’s easy to brush them off as in the past. Komarov’s hit was really unfortunate. Versteeg’s slash was just kind of dumb. Chiasson didn’t get enough of Komarov to punish him, and Bennett doesn’t really have a reputation. But, besides the fact that Tkachuk took two attempts at his offense to make sure he finished the job, this also isn’t his first rodeo this year. He also took heat earlier in the season for a combined hit and slew foot on Brandon Davidson of the Edmonton Oilers during their home opener, which caused him to miss 30 games. He didn’t receive punishment, however, nor has he for a grocery list of questionable hits and plays throughout the year.

That’s a scary thing. You don’t want a player to be immune to punishment in any circumstance, but matters when you realize we’re talking about a Draft+1 rookie. It’s in the best interest of safety to make sure the 19-year-old learns some form of lesson from the league soon, before he injures someone else or before another player decides that it’s time to self-police him.

Some other takeaways: I’m becoming more in favour of an automatic minor penalty for hits to the head, if only to encourage precaution. I don’t believe Komarov had any sort of ill intention whatsoever when he checked Gaudreau, but maybe such a rule gets him to let up even sooner, or at the very least, he gets a “you screwed up” penalty that eases the tension before any of this starts. I’d also like to see the definition of a slew foot become a bit more relaxed or subjective, because if what Bennett and Tkachuk did are both considered cool by the league, you’re going to start seeing more of it.

Overall, the majority of the blame for last night goes to the Calgary Flames. A lot of these plays were dangerous, and literally, none of them were useful. I understand that seeing your star player go down temporarily is a scary sight, I understand that the team is struggling right now, and I understand that the scoreboard was far from in their favour. But the players are better than that, the coaching staff is better than that, and the team is better than that.

The good news? The season series is over, so this won’t all come to a head again in a few weeks. In a situation like this, that’s probably for the best.

  • Klas

    These type of games scare me in a season where we can’t afford to have any of our key players injured if we wanna make the playoffs. As for Tkachuk, like father, like son.

  • The Russian Rocket

    1) The Chiasson hit should have got an Intent to Injure penalty. He jumps and leads with the elbow. His elbow was aimed so clearly at the head that it bounces off and goes over Komorov’s head. It’s not like it was a follow-through thing.

    2) I think it’s pretty clear the DOPS is asking someone like Martin, Stewart, Neil or Lucic to beat up Tkachuk. They know he has a reputation. They really should have fined him. Now that they haven’t (again) it’s just a matter of time before a fighter will feel he has to protect his team from the cheap shots Tkachuk is dishing out.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      There is a rule for “deliberate Intent to Injure penalty”. This penalty
      can be called in addition to any minor or major penalty. Unfortunately
      for some unknown reason it is rarely called. I am not sure if it is because we have a better view on the TV, plus all the replays or if the referees need instructions from the from the NHL to crack down on these type of plays. The refs seem to be content to let the NHL decide which plays shall be reviewed. That missed two handed slash on Matthews should have been called. One doesn’t have to make contact to be called for a slash. It could also be called as a deliberate attempt to injure as it was a two hander aimed at the side of his knee, from what I seen.

      I am not sure if anyone has noticed but Babcock instructs all his players to play a hard and clean game. If they don’t understand that then Babcock will not keep them on the team. Martin no instigater penalties, no third man in, no majors other than fighting. Martin leads the league in hits but all of them are of the clean variety. Clune (Jeff’s pick so we could save money) one game 5 minutes for charging and tossed from the game, now unable to properly ice a fourth line, then sent back down to Marlies next game. Rychel 5 minutes for third man in for helping out Kadri, tossed from the game, back with the Marlies. I am not so sure with him if that was the only reason, though I am convinced it was part of it. Babcock understands there will occasionally be a major called. He wants it to be purely accidental.

      I could go either way on the automatic penalty for hits to the head to be called. I do think they have another option. Send a memo out to all team that there will be zero tolerance for intentional hits to the head, Starting with suspensions of 15 to 20 games, not this 3 game bullshit. Dangerous checks that accidentally result in a hit to the head could be the given a 5 game or less suspension. I think that would stop the hits to the head.

      Let’s face it. It is mostly the star players who are targeted for those intentional hits to the head. Having the stars out with concussions has no value to the game. Fans really love to see the top stars play hockey.

      • Stan Smith

        I disagree with accidental hits to the head being a penalty or a suspendable offense. While I don’t like to see anyone get hurt, especially with a concussion, a larger player like Chara would be afraid to hit at all, given his 6′ 9″ height.

        If a hit is ruled an intentional hit to the head. at the present there is no automatic suspension. I think a 1 game suspension for a first offence, 3 games for 2nd and at least 10 games for a 3rd offence would deter these.

          • Stan Smith

            15 to 20 for a first offence does seem to be harsh to me. My worry is that would make any bigger player afraid to hit period. The idea is to have a deterrent to hit illegally. Not too hit at all.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            The 15 o 20 would be for deliberate hits to the head. 5 or less on hits that injure that came about from a player that should have known it was a dangerous play that would likely injure. eg. blind side hits that cause a concussion. The 5 or less would be if it could be determined there was some intent to injury even though it could be also considered a clean hit.

            The existing penalties for targeting the head do not seem to be stopping them from occurring. Do we really want to see guys like Crosby etc. have their careers ended early?

  • Stan Smith

    It is the nature of the sport that some games are going to get chippy, rough, whatever you want to call it. That is what the referees are there for. That is what the DOPS is there for. I disagree that the rules should be set up to make hits like Komarov’s illegal.

  • Dan Grant

    Pfft. I was with you until the last one (and I’m a Flames fan. I acknowledge my team was beyond BRUTAL last night). That Tkachuk “slewfoot” though… probably a penalty but mostly a really terrible dive or stupidly awkward stumble if you’re being generous. Hardly “egregious!”

    • Kanuunankuula

      Honestly, if I was a Flames fan, I’d hope DOPS gave him something for it. If he keeps this up, someone is going to injure him because of doing it again, and it will worse than a two game suspension. Not that I agree with this response, but it’s going to happen if players feel DOPS is not doing anything to him.

  • Brandon

    It’s so rare to see players check up on a player they’ve hit and who has gotten hurt and returned. My Komarov fandom quotient just went up. He’s a tough, classy player. I’m happy he’s around for the kids to learn from. He also could have pummeled Giordano when he tripped during their scrap, but just grabbed him and held him to stop.